Objective: To review cervical smears from 76 women which were taken prior to the diagnosis of invasive cervical cancer and to determine the appropriateness of the cytology reports issued on the smears.
Methods: Cervical smears, clinical records, cervical smear history and cytology reports from 76 women with invasive cervical cancer were reviewed. After microscopic review of the cervical smears, the cases were divided into two groups: Group 1 comprised 50 women who were found to have had at least one false-negative (F/N) smear report prior to the diagnosis of invasive cervical cancer. Group 2 comprised 26 women for whom no evidence of F/N reporting was found.
Results: A total of 209 cervical smears from the 50 women in group 1 were available for review (range 2–12 smears per woman); 100 of the 209 smears were considered to have been reported appropriately. Ninety-seven smears which had been reported originally as negative or inadequate were found, on review, to contain numerous severely dyskaryotic cells and were reclassified as F/N smears. All of the 50 women had at least one F/N smear and 29 had two or more. Twelve smears from eight women contained only a few (<200 severely dyskaryotic cells). Forty women developed invasive squamous carcinoma and 10 developed invasive adenocarcinoma. The stage at diagnosis ranged from 1A to stage 4. Seventy-one smears from the 24 women in group 2 were available for review (range 1–15 smears per woman). In two cases included in group 2, no smears were provided for review as the smears had been lost or mislaid. Review of the 71 smears confirmed the accuracy of the original cytological classification of the smear. Nineteen women were diagnosed with squamous cancer, two microinvasive cancer, one glassy cell, two adenocarcinomas, and one with adenosquamous carcinoma. One women was found to have an embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma of the corpus uteri involving the cervix.
Discussion/Conclusion: The medicolegal implications are discussed in the light of the above findings. Evidence of breach of duty of care was presented in all 50 cases in group I although causation was not established in every case. There was no evidence of failure of duty of care in terms of the standard of the cervical cytology reports issued or standard of clinical management in 17 of the 26 cases in group 2. However, in seven of the 26 cases in group 2, clinical management of the case was substandard due to failure to investigate symptoms of irregular bleeding regardless of a negative cytology report (two cases), failure to act upon a suspicious smear report or consecutive inadequate smear reports (two cases), failure of follow-up after treatment of CIN3 (two cases) and histological misdiagnosis (one case).